On Friday, December 14, 2012 I had a very busy schedule at my contract job. It was not until after work that I was able to check my voice messages. My first message was from a friend of mine, an editor from a local news paper, asking if I would speak to one of her reporters working on an article to help parents deal with the shootings. My first thought was that she was referring to a shooting a few weeks prior. It was after 5 o clock by this time so I knew that they were probably all gone from the office by then so I would plan to send her an email later and see if it was something we could do for the following day.
On the way home I called a friend of mine to catch up on the day as we normally do. She asked if I had heard about the shooting today. “no” I replied. She filled me in the best she could. As soon as I got into my home, I turned the TV on and began watching. The best way I can describe my feelings are shock and disbelief. I then remember the phone call from my editor friend.
Obviously, since none of my client’s or parents had mentioned the shootings today then the school system did an excellent job of keeping it away from them for the time being. At work, our waiting room TV is usually turned to cartoons to keep the little ones entertained. So news wasn’t on.
It took me another day, almost two, to be able to process the news myself. What can parents say to their children? I would start to pick up the phone to call my friend, but then replace the phone. What should parents say? At this point my mind goes blank. I didn’t know what to tell her. I went to bed Friday night trying to think what would I have told my own children if they were still young and innocent of the evil that sometimes happens in our world. What am I going to tell the children I work with on Monday when they begin talking about it. And they will. After 9-11, in both the play room and the sand tray room, I had children working out the scene that was played over and over on the TV. You remember the scene; when the planes hit the towers. They needed to do this to make sense of their world.
So the task at hand – What do parents tell their children? What can they do to help their children?
• First and foremost; get yourself together. Do what you need to do to process the event the best you can in order to be able to speak calmly and reassuring to your children. If you are showing anxiety and fear, it will transfer to your child. If they see you calm, and reassuring, this will transfer to them as well.
• Second, turn off the TV. Yes, it happened and there is no way that you are going to shield them from the days which will follow and the information which will be circulating. but what you will be doing is limiting and not allowing the emotions and actions of reporters, families of the victims, and others to continue to frightening your child. Another reason to turn the TV off is that young children can confuse events. If they see the events over and over they may begin to think of them as separate events. Meaning that to them, it may be still happening, or happening again somewhere else.
• Talk to your child. You know your child better than anyone. Only give them the information that they can understand, and how they can understand it. If you are unsure, ask them if they have heard about the event, and what they have heard. Go from there. Be sure they understand that this is not something that happens and that it is not something that would happen to them. Do not go overboard with any information. Acknowledge that bad things sometimes happen but it is was very unusual and it is not going to happen to them. They are looking for reassurance from you and the other adults in their life so give it to them.
• Every school should have a safety plan in effect and they practice them. Remind them why it is very important for them to know their safety plan and what to do If it is ever needed. This is a good time to go over these plans. If you don’t know what they are you can find out. Use it as a time to know more about your child’s school, and help them know you and the school do everything you can to keep them safe and teach them safety.
• Encourage closure. If your school, church, or community does something to memorialize or help the survivors and families, and your child wants to be part of that, then encourage it. It will help with closure.
• Seek help if needed. Most children can handle bad news without a major reaction. But if they have nightmares for more than a day or two, or tantrums, or continue to double-check the doors each night, they may need professional help in getting past their fears.
If your interested in seeing the article that was posted, here is a link to it – The Andalusia Star News
Lisa Patterson is a licensed counselor in Alabama & Florida, Nationally Certified Counselor and a Registered Play Therapist.